MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The case of two missing sisters is shedding light on a growing problem of sex trafficking in Memphis and Shelby County.
It’s feared the two teenagers, 13-year-old Breanna Gibson and 15-year-old Quintessa Oliver, have become victims of sex trafficking.
Experts said sex trafficking is more prevalent than you might think in our community. The average age for juvenile victims is just 11 to 13 years old.
“It’s not just a Memphis issue, it’s not just a Birmingham or Nashville…it’s global,” Len Edwards, executive director of the Commission on Missing or Exploited Children (COMEC) said..
“It is prevalent, it’s happening more now than ever before. It’s taking advantage of somebody,” he added.
A 2011 study conducted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations and Vanderbilt University documented 100 reported cases of sex trafficking in adults and 100 in juveniles, and that’s just in Shelby County.
Edwards said those numbers are on the rise, especially now since access has become so easy with online sites advertising services.
Neighbors of the two missing sisters said they often saw men approach them on the street.
“Those who look to do harm to children, they certainly know where the children are, and they know what things to say to get the children to listen,” Edwards said.
Children are often victimized because predators offer them nice things like clothes or money.
“This can happen to anyone,” Edwards said.
He said the key is prevention, reaching out and educating schools, students, and parents, and knowing the signs.
Edwards said something to lookout for is if the teen has more money than usual or the stories about where they have been or what they’re doing don’t add up. He also said a warning sign could be if the teen has a new tattoo, has a high number of reported sexual partners at a young age, carries hotel keys or key cards, and frequently misses school.
“I think we have a duty to be more involved in our children’s lives,” Edwards said.